Toy Story: Beginning a New Era

HANG ON FOR THE COMEDY THAT GOES TO INFINITY AND BEYOND.

toystoryWho would have thought back in 1995 that computer-animated films would revolutionize the industry? After all, Disney’s hand-drawn The Lion King was still a sensational hit and most people were content to think that computer animation would only remain a technical solution for certain elaborate scenes in cel-animated films. However, a small studio within Disney called Pixar was about to release the first computer-animated feature. Director John Lasseter ended up receiving a special Oscar for his work on Toy Story, just like Walt Disney did for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

The story introduces us to a six-year-old called Andy, and his toys. His favorite is a cowboy pull-string toy, Woody. Whenever Andy leaves his room, the toys come alive and Woody sees it as his job to lead this motley gang. Andy’s birthday party is coming up and Woody gathers a reconnaissance patrol to find out if Andy’s getting any potential threats. Everything looks fine until the last gift, which turns out to be an action figure, a space ranger called Buzz Lightyear. Buzz quickly replaces Woody as Andy’s favorite, which irritates the cowboy; after all, Buzz doesn’t even realize that he’s simply a toy who can’t fly or travel to space. Woody wants to get rid of Buzz and reconnect with Andy, but his plan to trick Buzz into falling behind Andy’s desk and thereby disappear out of sight fails and Buzz is accidentally kicked out the window, falling into a garden bush.

When Andy brings Woody on a trip (simply because he can’t find Buzz), the space ranger watches the six-year-old get into a car with Woody and decides to tag along, determined to get back at the cowboy.

Sweet, imaginative story
That little excursion may not take place over a great distance, but these are toys and even the smallest adventure turns into a big deal for Woody and Buzz who eventually learn how to trust each other and work together in order to find their way back to Andy. One can always hail the technical triumphs of this film, but it would not have become such a classic without this sweet, imaginative story about the lives of toys. Tom Hanks brings tremendous energy to his performance as Woody and Tim Allen is surprisingly effective as the heroic Buzz who is so sure of his destiny that he fails to realize that the words “Made in Taiwan” are stamped into his body. They are aided by a terrific supporting cast who provide the voices of Andy’s other toys.

The film marks the first successful collaboration between Pixar and John Ratzenberger who plays Hamm, a know-it-all in the mold of Cliff Clavin. As expected, Don Rickles is perfect as the wise-cracking Mr. Potato Head. Lasseter keeps the story moving rapidly, throwing in a clever chase sequence near the end where the two heroes are threatened not only by the traffic and a mean-spirited dog but also their fellow toys who think Woody is trying to kill Buzz out of jealousy. The rivalry between those two guys provide many amusing scenes and spirited dialogue.

The filmmakers also include a clever sequence where the playfulness of Andy’s room is contrasted with the dark and intimidating (but also inventive) room of Sid, the wicked boy next door who enjoys experimenting on his toys.

Watching this movie again 15 years after its release is a revelation. You realize how far computer-animation has evolved; some details of Toy Story look like they belong in a third-rate video game. But you also realize that the sheer fun of this story and the hard work behind it more than compensate for technical inadequacies.

Toy Story 1995-U.S. Animated. 80 min. Color. Produced by Bonnie Arnold, Ralph Guggenheim. Directed by John Lasseter. Screenplay: Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow. Music, Songs: Randy Newman (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me”). Voices of Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head), Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger… Laurie Metcalf, R. Lee Ermey, Penn Jillette.

Trivia: Executive-produced by Steve Jobs. Billy Crystal was allegedly considered for the voice of Buzz. Followed by two sequels, starting with Toy Story 2 (1999).

Last word: “I didn’t have that many doubts. Others had doubts. When we were making ‘Toy Story’, there were a lot of people saying, ‘I don’t know if people can sit still for an hour and a half of computer animation’. But we never did. We had faith that we were telling a good story. And we also put our own – you might say geeky – interests into it, because I just love toys. I think being an animator, you have to be a bit of kid who’s never grown up. I have a big toy collection, so there’s this love of the subject matter that we were telling.” (Lasseter, BBC)

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